n this tense, twisted thriller of passion and betrayal, two men face the decision of a lifetime. They had been three buddies, living the life in Malaysia, a life of drugs, sex and freedom. Sheriff and Tony return to America, but Lewis decided to stay on. Two years later, a lawyer arrives in New York. Lewis is rotting in a prison cell – sentenced to die because of them. The only way he can be saved is if Sheriff and Tony return to serve three years in a living hell.

Editing: Craig McKay, Andrew Mondshein
Mark Mancina

Cast: Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, Joaquin Phoenix, David Conrad, Vera Farmiga, Nick Sandow, Jada Pinkett Smith, Ming Lee, Joel de la Fuente, Richard Chang

Directors: Josh Ruben
Writers: Wesley Strick, Bruce Robinson, Pierre Jolivet (based on the motion picture Force Majeure), Olivier Schatzky (based on the motion picture Force Majeure)
Cinematography: Reynaldo Villalobos

Not only had I never watched Return to Paradise (1998) before, but I’d never even heard of the film. Staring at the blu-ray cover, this is a bit of shock as it stars Vince VaughnAnne Heche and Joaquin Phoenix. My first assumption was that the movie must be so bad it was buried in time. But I was wrong; not only is Return to Paradise good, but it’s also shocking that these performances from three young stars weren’t talked about more. 

A montage of good times, sun, beach, drugs, and sex introduces Sheriff (Vaughn), Lewis (Phoenix) and Tony (David Conrad), who are enjoying a holiday in Malaysia. However, as we meet these characters, they’re preparing to part ways as Sheriff and Tony get ready to head back to New York. They say goodbye to their new friend Lewis who is instead going to venture further on to Borneo to save captured apes. Jump ahead two years, and Sheriff, a limbo driver, picks up lawyer Beth (Anne Heche), who informs Sheriff that Lewis never left Malaysia two years ago. Instead, police arrested him after finding drugs the three had been smoking, and he was now eight days away from being hung. That was unless either Sheriff and Tony agreed to return and do three years in jail each, or six years total for one of them. 

Technical Specs:

  • 1080p High-definition presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K scan of the original negative

  • Aspect Ratio 2.35:1

  • Audio English DTS-HD 5.1 Surround + LPCM 2.0 Stereo

  • Optional English HOH subtitles

The moral dilemma is what drives Return to Paradise. Would you return and do prison time to help someone you haven’t seen for years? Someone you’d known only briefly, even if you knew part of his death would lay on your hands if you did. Via a tape, Lewis begs for the help of his friends from years prior. He informs them he hasn’t been beaten in prison and does get fed — but he still looks and sounds like crap. A man on his deathbed, reaching out for one last chance. 

Although he doesn’t get as much screen time as the others, Joaquin Phoenix is phenomenal here. His work in one scene, in particular, is heartbreaking, and it’s the kind of performance that makes you wonder what going to such a dark place mentally must do to an actor. Most of the film features Vaughn and Heche going back and forth as he refuses to go back, and she begs him to reconsider; as the days’ tick by, you can see the guilt creep in on Sheriff’s face. 

A relationship between Sheriff and Beth begins to form early, but as an audience member, you’re wondering with Sheriff if the flirtations are legit or a way to get him to agree to head to Malaysia. The back-and-forth is excellent between the two, as is the chemistry. I was, however, left wanting more to seal the impact of their final scene together. 

Special Features:

  • NEW Force Majeure: Directing Return to Paradise – interview with director Joseph Ruben

  • NEW A Godless Place: Scoring Return to Paradise – interview with composer Mark Mancina

  • Archival interviews with actors Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche and Joaquin Phoenix

  • Theatrical Trailer

  • Limited Edition slipcase on the first 1500 copies with unique artwork

The original score by Mark Mancina sounds excellent here with the DTS-HD 5.1 sound, but the mix is off ever so slightly at times, with a heavier fade towards the music than the dialogue. It all was mixed lower than recent things I’ve been watching, having to hit the volume button up a few more decibels to hear it effectively. 

Coming from a 4K scan of the original film, this 1080p release looks great with good saturation and colours. The dark scenes on the streets of New York looked sharp on my OLED TV, and the locations in Malaysia weren’t over-saturated to emphasise the holiday feel that was often a thing in the 90s and is still a problem in some films now. 

The Blu-Ray itself has been released as a 1500 limited release with a slipcase, and there are two new features on the disc before release. ‘Force Majeure: Directing Return to Paradise – interview with director Joseph Ruben’ and ‘A Godless Place: Scoring Return to Paradise – interview with composer Mark Mancina.’ Both are well worth checking out. Although those behind the scenes produce the content and questions well, the audio from both Ruben and Mancina can be somewhat annoying as they’re recording via a phone line or sometimes bumping their recording device. 

Return to Paradise hit me hard with tough questions, even if the last twenty-odd minutes are less well put-together than the proceeding events. As a new film released on Blu-Ray, it’s hard for me to complain too much about the quality of the special features since this has yet to be on an Australian shelf. With that in mind, I recommend checking it out, if not simply from a film history point of view.

You can purchase Return to Paradise (1998) [Imprint Collection #209] here via Imprint.

Film Score

Blu-ray Score